Thursday, February 12, 2009

Short-tailed Weasel (Ermine)

Last week I wrote a little about looking for signs of weasels. I found one decent set of tracks during that outing. But as I took two women out on a snowshoe tour earlier today I was hoping to find a few more good weasel tracks.

I wasn't disappointed. And whether they liked it or not, these two women got an earful about weasels, and how to identify their tracks. By the end of our hike, they were pointing out the weasel tracks themselves. I was so proud.

Weasels are bounders. Their back feet register almost directly over where their front feet were. The front feet land, then the front feet come up again just before the back feet land. As they bound, looking, searching, smelling, listening for mice, voles and shrews, they leave behind a wonderful story in the soft snow.

We followed several sets of weasel tracks until they disappeared into shrubbery, or a small hole in the snow. In the image above, you can see the varying distances between each of the bounds as it moved across the snow.

As I was reading through a Project WILD Newsletter focused on Weasels I found the following statement very amusing: "ounce for ounce [weasels are] probably the most efficient killers of all carnivores." I love that. Here are these small, powerful, hyperactive little predators that often move in ways that reflect an ADHD mind, cute as can be, and yet deadly, even to prey much larger than themselves.
We saw many, many little weasel tracks but the set shown above was by far my favorite. It's picture perfect for weasel tracks. One short bound, followed by one very long bound, followed again by a short bound where a slight drag mark can be seen (if the snow was deeper, this would have created the dumbbell shape print), and it just continues: long bound, short bound with drag mark, long bound, short bound...and on. I'm sure I spent more time at this particular set of tracks than my guests enjoyed. I just wish I'd had a measuring tape with me. I really must remember to make that a part of my standard snowshoe equipment from now on.

I wish I could say I took this picture, but this one was taken by one of our rangers. In winter, both short-tailed and long-tailed weasels turn pure white, except for their black-tipped tail. In summer, they are reddish brown on their backs, and cream colored on their bellies. Generally nocturnal, they are very rarely seen. But they can be smelled. They are one of the "musky" ones! Like skunks, they have well-developed scent glands which produce a thick, oily, foul smelling fluid, that they use, among other things, to mark their territory.

I didn't smell anything today. But I won't give up on that possibility during some future outing.


Nicole said...

great tracks, sounds fun. I love to snowshoe and see nature. Maybe next time you'll find some.

Wren said...

I've heard they are cute to look at but no fun to spend time with. This sounds like a fun outing and a great way to learn about tracks. I need to find someone near me who's as knowledgeable and interesting on the subject.

behindthebins said...

I would live to go snowshoeing with you and I promise you can tell me all about weasels and tracking.